We modeled the normal fire environment for occurrence of large forest wildfires (>40ha) for the Pacific Northwest Region of the United States. Large forest wildfire occurrence data from the recent climate normal period (1971–2000) was used as the response variable and fire season precipitation, maximum temperature, slope, and elevation were used as predictor variables. A projection of our model onto the 2001–2030 climate normal period showed strong agreement between model predictions and the area of forest burned by large wildfires from 2001 to 2015 (independent fire data). We then used downscaled climate projections for two greenhouse gas concentration scenarios and over 30 climate models to project changes in environmental suitability for large forest fires over the 21st century. Results indicated an increasing proportion of forested area with fire environments more suitable for the occurrence of large wildfires over the next century for all ecoregions but less pronounced for the Coast Range and Puget Lowlands. The largest increases occurred on federal lands, while private and state lands showed less. We calculated fire rotation periods for the recent historical and current climate and examined the relative differences between them and our modeled large wildfire suitability classes. By the end of the century, the models predicted shorter fire rotation periods, with cooler/moister forests experiencing larger magnitudes of change than warmer/drier forests. Modeling products, including a set of time series maps, can provide forest resource managers, fire protection agencies, and policy-makers empirical estimates of how much and where climate change might affect the geographic distribution of large wildfires and effect fire rotations.
Davis, Raymond; Yang, Zhiqiang; Yost, Andrew; Belongie, Cole; Cohen, Warren. 2017. The normal fire environment—Modeling environmental suitability for large forest wildfires using past, present, and future climate normals. Forest Ecology and Management. 390: 173-186. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2017.01.027.